COPENHAGEN — He’s the two-Michelin-starred chef at the helm of what one U.K. newspaper called “the world’s weirdest restaurant,” dishing up freeze-dried butterflies, deer blood ice cream and caged chicken claws every night as part of a 50-course gastro-marathon.

But recently, going mainstream has become more appealing to Rasmus Munk, the 32-year-old creator of Alchemist, ranked fifth on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Following an investment of about $1.5 million, Munk has just opened Spora — a lab dedicated to making the sustainable proteins of the future, which he believes will be on grocery store shelves within six months.

Spora grew out of Alchemist’s Copenhagen test kitchen, where chefs still shape and puff and buff dishes during the first part of each night’s meal. But that bright-white test kitchen is now simply a kitchen, with Munk’s ideas finding a second home at a lab mere blocks away, in Refshaleøen, a former industrial site.

The goal he is forever working toward, he tells me earnestly, is: “Can you make something that has such a big impact that you change the world?” Alchemist has been his first pass at making political statements about the way we eat (the ice cream comes with a QR code for blood donation), but seats just 55 diners in its one nightly service, which typically runs to six hours. Spora, then, is his chance to make “the products of tomorrow” — primarily by “upcycling” materials discarded in other food processes.

Spora is nothing like the grandeur of Alchemist, the 24,000-square-foot space where the 50 courses (or, as Munk calls them, “impressions”) take place in five locations, including a planetarium-style dome on which graphics swirl overhead and a ball pit. Like Munk himself, dressed all in black when we meet, the lab is surprisingly understated.

A chef is checking over his latest batch of cocoa-less chocolate in an otherwise unremarkable kitchen; upstairs is the diminutive lab that looks like a meeting room. There, Mette Johnsen, Spora’s CEO, opens a cupboard door to reveal a colony of leafcutter ants in a glass case, cultivating fungus — and, in the process, teaching Spora’s 20 staff members about the “effective transformation of plant materials into nutrients.” The ants also “release a pheromone with an incredible lemony/ginger/umami flavor, which make them very interesting to explore gastronomically,” she says.

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The experiment encapsulates what Spora can offer the world when it comes to sustainable food, Johnsen says — a matter more urgent now than ever, with 40 percent of the food grown in the United States uneaten or unsold. (ReFED, a food waste research organization, says that food waste has the same climate footprint as the whole U.S. aviation industry — the military included — equivalent to 1.8 percent of the U.S. GDP.) To make what we eat more planet-friendly, “you need to bring together science and gastronomy, [as] individually, they’re not going to find these answers,” Johnsen says. Spora “is the intersection or transaction of the disciplines coming together, and asking different questions, and finding different answers.”

The lab has two development streams: repurposing existing waste foods and fermentation. Foods in development include rapeseed (a.k.a. canola) cakes, the solid byproduct formed when oil is extracted from the crop, of which 36.8 million tons are produced each year. I eat it as a taco filling (earlier in the week, they tried it as a meat replacement in spaghetti Bolognese); it tastes earthy, tempeh-like in texture. Their protein bar version, which blends rapeseed cakes with dried fruits and nuts, could be sold tomorrow.

Further behind is the chocolate, which, considering the high land farming required and child labor issues in the cultivation process, they want to make minus cocoa. It is no simple task to re-create “the same properties that we love about chocolate, so snap, smell, mouthfeel; the smoothness and how it melts in your mouth,” Johnsen says. We chomp through variations including honey, raspberry and coffee ganache (made from waste coffee grounds), though Johnsen admits that, on deliciousness, “we’re not quite there yet.” (I would agree.)

There are “probably five projects, six projects at least” on the go, Munk says, including partnerships with a San Francisco start-up developing cell-grown salmon (Spora’s role is to re-create the fishy taste), and a major drinks company. Munk doesn’t see Spora’s name ending up on any of the products that will be sold, though two of its creations are now on Alchemist’s menu: a fungi gel developed as part of a study with the University of California at Berkeley; and the cocoa-less chocolate, made from spent grain otherwise discarded during beer production, now used in the restaurant’s petits fours.

The lab may seem an unusual move for someone like Munk, who inhabits a world where his peers are more likely to lend their name to pasta sauces, cookbooks or celebrity collaborations. But he sees it as the logical next step for melding the personal with the political — his animus since the first Alchemist opened, in 2015. At the restaurant, where tables sell out in minutes and there is a waiting list of 10,000, there have been five walkouts from perturbed diners over the years, and endless arguments as parties fall out over the caged claw (his attempt to highlight the ills of battery farming), or an “impression” addressing garbage in the ocean, which features plaice shrouded in edible “plastic,” made from algae and fish skin collagen.

Running Alchemist (which doesn’t open unless Munk is there), a February pop-up with Ferran Adrià of El Bulli (the father of molecular gastronomy, whose restaurant was voted best in the world before its 2011 closure) and a string of Super Bowl events in Las Vegas, as well as opening Spora have resulted in a “crazy” period for the millennial provocateur.

All the same, he is pressing on with his sustainability crusade, of which he is an unlikely leader. Munk grew up on a farm in Randers, Jutland, 3½ hours outside Copenhagen, where the food highlight of his youth was a weekly visit to McDonald’s. He had never heard of organic fare until his late teens, when he began culinary training. But with the knowledge and status he has now, he believes it is on him — as well as others in the industry — to change our outlook.

“I think a lot of chefs have voices out there, and some use it on telling stories about childhood memories” through their dishes, he says. “But I also think you can take it further” — to use it as a medium through which “to discuss, and sometimes to create a debate” about the meaning of what we eat. While musicians or painters convey a deeper message through their art, “it seems like when you use food as a medium for that, we’re still maybe a little bit conservative.”

Still, he is not the only Michelin-starred chef looking to the future. Noma, ranked the world’s best restaurant multiple times (and just about a mile away from Alchemist) is closing down this year to restart life as “Noma 3.0” come 2025, when chef-patron René Redzepi will herald its transformation “into a giant lab—a pioneering test kitchen dedicated to the work of food innovation and the development of new flavors,” as he wrote on the restaurant’s website. (El Bulli also has a lab running research programs and various culinary projects, with the goal being “to share knowledge in various formats,” according to the El Bulli Foundation.) Meanwhile, at Eleven Madison Park, crowned the world’s best in 2017, new flavors have been on the menu since Daniel Humm in 2021 pivoted its famed duck, lobster and caviar dishes to all vegan fare, because, as he told Wallpaper magazine, “we’re just running out of resources.”

Munk acknowledges the hypocrisy in his own mission. It would be far better for the planet to shut Alchemist down, he knows: to turn off the projectors that adorn the dome, to stop people flying in from around the world to visit, to end the nightly regimen of putting tiny circles of food on diners’ plates and doing away with the rest.

With the oil still burning at Alchemist, for Munk, Spora is his own personal offsetting scheme — even if he worries that the goals he started out with as a young chef hopeful of earning a Michelin star are “so much bigger now, and maybe also sometimes too big.” Still, he is pressing on, optimistic that greater change is coming — and inside of six months. “It’s very important that Spora’s [work] is not just in small, romantic little bakeries” in Copenhagen; “it needs to have a broader perspective,” Munk says, ideas for our future that are “possible to scale up for millions of lives.”